The fate of nearly 70,000 California cultivators is in limbo. Unfortunately, the issues facing these growers (especially small, family-run farms) are so complex that there is no easy way to address them. The cover story on p. 52 shares the perspectives of those trying to work through many of the most significant hurdles as the state-like those that have forged through post-prohibition before it—is experiencing significant growing pains.
But California is unique in that it has had two thriving cannabis markets-a very loosely regulated medical market and a black market-for decades. Cannabis has supported tens of thousands of families and dozens of communities. And the harsh reality is that the state simply cannot sustain, in a legal market, the number of cultivators currently working.
The American craft beer and wine industries can give us some perspective. In 2016, there were 5,301 breweries in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association. Of those, 5,234 are craft breweries. The total beer market retail dollar value is $107.6 billion. (Craft’s dollar share is 21.9 percent.)
Just over 8,700 wineries existed in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Wine Institute. “Wine shipments to the U.S. from all production sources-California, other states and foreign producers” reached nearly $60 billion. Shipments of California wine throughout the U.S. “reached an estimated retail value of $34.1 billion in 2016,” an all-time high, the Institute reported.
Black market cannabis sales nationwide reached an estimated $46.4 billion in 2016, Inc. magazine reported, citing a report from Arcview Market Research. (Black market and legal sales combined for $53.3 billion.) Compare the market size of the alcohol and cannabis industries, then compare the number of licensed brewers and wine-makers to the estimated nearly 70,000 cannabis cultivators in California alone, and see the problem emerge.
California’s vast landscape of growers has been able to sustain itself through interstate (black market) sales. It stands to reason that unless the bulk of these growers continue to operate in the black market, there will not be enough in-state consumption to sustain them. But even if these cultivators were to remain in the black market, it is likely not sustainable in the long-term, as more states are legalizing adult-use and medical cannabis, chipping away at the illicit trade’s market potential.
The state market’s problem is compounded by the fact that 39 out of 58 California counties have banned cannabis businesses in one way or another. While municipalities within county lines can still pass their own legislation allowing cannabis business, they can also uphold the bans.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture had issued just 2,477 temporary cultivation licenses-less than 4 percent of the estimated number of growers in the state-by the time this issue was headed to press. And those 2,477 cultivators have just 300 (temporarily) licensed adult-use dispensaries through which to legally sell their products “right now,” a phrase which CBT writer Eric Sandy notes in the cover story is integral to examining the state’s cannabis outlook.Of course, more licenses will be given out; but really, what is the true potential? And what are the options?
As devastating as this may be, I think we all need to adjust our expectations. Consider the widely reported statistic that 80 percent of all new businesses, not just cannabis companies, do not survive their first year of operation. And, as USA Today reports, “Around half of all businesses no longer exist after five years,” and “only one-third make it past their 10th anniversary.” While these figures might be cause for concern, it is worth noting that many of those businesses that no longer exist (on their own) have been acquired by other businesses, and owners were able to recoup some or all of their investment, if not make a profit, on the sale.
Ultimately, the success or failure of your business is going to depend on you. And realizing that “business as usual” is no longer applicable is a big step in the right direction.